1.13.2010

No Doors, No Windows

Joe Schreiber's novel No Doors, No Windows (Del Rey) is a horror writer's horror novel. An unsettling portrait of small-town New England, this American Gothic will get under your skin and keep you turning the pages well past bedtime.

A third-person narrative that bounces around, this book belongs predominantly to the character Scott Mast, a greeting-card writer who fled tiny Millburn for the refuge of Seattle. After his father's death, Mast is reluctantly tossed into a mystery that involves a very unique (and haunted) house, a family curse and some seriously wicked ghosts.

Mast is well drawn as the reluctant hero, but I think Schreiber's characterization is best illustrated in his melancholy portrayal of Owen Mast, Scott's younger brother who can't seem to get out of his own way. A single alcoholic father, Owen is always broke. He's got a chip on his shoulder the size of New Hampshire, and he doesn't want much to do with his own family. Thankfully, we get to see the full range of Owen's character, and his part in all of this can't be understated. A very fine job with the writing by Mr. Schreiber here...

And family is a large part of this. Schreiber effectively delves into the myriad complexities of personal identity and familial responsibility. Many of the memories here are sad, and they beg personal reflection from the reader on what it truly means to be tied to others by blood.

The writing is strong--descriptive and literary. Schreiber brings the New England setting alive with apt comparisons, and his depiction of Round House is excellent. The ghost story at the center of the novel is really scary, although it loses a little steam in the third act. In that way, this novel reminds me of Joe Hill's Heart Shaped Box. Both feature excellent first and second acts, but the climax and resolution in each novel left me wanting a bit more.

Still, this is a very good book. In the acknowledgments section, Schreiber describes the manuscript's long journey to publication. "This book occupied an exceptionally long period of my creative life," he writes, "lingering what felt like indefinitely in that literary neonatal intensive ward call The Rewrite." It changed a number of times in the process, and I got the impression it almost never came into the world at all.

That would have been a terrible shame. Take a look at No Doors, No Windows--highly recommended.

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